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Wrestling will survive, even without the Olympics

COMMENTARY — A sport full of tough competitors will be just fine, even if the IOC doesn't want it in the Summer Games, starting in 2020.
by Berry Tramel Published: February 12, 2013

Or going to OSU or Iowa and winning NCAA championships.

“The guys who are in for the love of the sport, it will stay the same,” Freeman said.

The vote by the IOC executive committee was goofy on several fronts.

This isn't like softball, another sport near and dear to Oklahomans. Despite the fun we have following the U.S. softball stars who continually come through Oklahoma City, that's a sport with limited international appeal. Only four or five nations can compete in softball at the highest level.

Meanwhile, wrestling spans the globe. In London, 14 men's wrestling gold medals were awarded and were won by nine nations. Iran won three, the U.S. won two. Japan and South Korea won golds. So did Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. A Puerto Rican won silver.

The major knock against wrestling — that it had no female counterpart — is gone. Females are wrestling in bunches; London bestowed four women's gold medals. Twenty-one U.S. universities sponsor women's wrestling.

And finally, the history. Wrestling is a bedrock sport of the Olympics.

“I like to refer to it as one of the pillars of the flame in the Olympic movement,” said Lee Roy Smith Jr., executive director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater. “And that's because of its authenticity. Its originality.”

Forgive Smith. He gets a little idealistic when talking about his sport. You can't blame him. His brother, John, won two Olympic golds, and Lee Roy himself was denied a spot on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team in a famous dispute with legendary coach Dan Gable.

So let's give Smith some latitude.

Wrestling has “always mirrored society,” he said. “The definition of wrestling is to struggle. It's always been such a close parallel between sport and life.”

The Greeks, Smith said, recognized it. “Plato and Socrates have written about it,” Smith said. “It's very much part of Greek culture, Olympic culture, Western culture.”

That's why I say that while this decision was a bummer, it's not any kind of death knell for wrestling.

In the U.S., fan interest in wrestling might be down, but wrestling participation is up.

“It's always been a sport that has survived society and cultures,” Smith said.

And wrestling will survive this dopey decision by the International Olympic Committee.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at